Jeff Mauro Outside Johnnie's Beef
What better place to start than Johnnie's Beef? Since Mauro grew up nearby, he's been visiting since he was a small kid. In fact, he admits that "sometimes I could smell the charcoal from Johnnie's when I opened the front door." I'm not sure I could lived by such constant temptation, especially since this one of the best Italian beefs around.
Johnnie's Beef, 7500 West North Avenue, Elmwood Park, IL 60707 (map); 708-452-6000
Italian Beef Combo at Johnnie's Beef
"Sometimes I just go with a beef and hot dog, but most of the time I get a combo," said Mauro as he unwrapped the massive Italian beef and Italian sausage combo. He likes his beef dipped and topped with both sweet and hot peppers.
Alpine Food Shop
The second stop was Alpine Food Shop, an Italian deli that has been open since 1955. "This was our neighborhood deli growing up," he said as he greeted just about every employee in the shop. "Just about every event in town was catered with trays of Alpine subs."
Alpine Sub with Portbellas and Roasted Red Peppers
"I always go with the Alpine," said Mauro, referring to the shop's classic offering of ham, salami, capicollo, and provolone cheese. "But my wife loves the veggie sandwich. That's where I got the idea to add the portabellas and red peppers to this one. This sub, a bag of barbecue crunchers, and a summer afternoon are all you need."
Double Cheeseburger at Burger Boss
Unlike the other stops, Burger Boss opened recently, but Mauro likes that it cooks burgers the old way. "I appreciate the pub burger, all big and juicy, but there is something so satisfying about the old school griddled patty that is thin with crispy edges." He likes keeping toppings to a minimum, adding just American cheese, onions, and raw jalapeño slices: "I love the fruity grassiness and the heat of the raw jalapeño. I don't think a pickled jalapeño would work in the same way." The burger also comes with a side of Boss sauce (sort of like Thousand Island) and some very skinny fries.
Panzerotti Babbo at Massa
After finishing the burger, Mauro explained how many other great eats there were nearby. He was particularly enthusiastic about Massa's panzerotti—a dish I'd never encountered before. After attempting to describe it to me for a few minutes, he gave up and decided just to show me. I agreed immediately. Turns out the panzerotti is sort of like a small deep fried calzone or handmade pizza puff.
Cutting Open the Panzerotti
Featuring a very soft and flaky crust, the panzerotti wasn't nearly as heavy or greasy as I imagined. Mauro always goes with the Babbo, which includes Italian sausage, fresh tomato sauce, and mozzarella.
Egg Roll at New Star
Mauro doesn't love everything on the menu, but he'll always come back for the massive egg rolls. Though extra-crispy on the outside, inside they are almost creamy, with loads of ground pork and cabbage.